- RatedPG /GenreDrama, Science Fiction
We’d wager that halfway through watching ‘Midnight Special’, you’d ask yourself, “What is going on?”
Indeed, the films of writer-director Jeff Nichols tend to zig and zag through so many genres that you're not sure where the film is heading or even if there a point to all of it.
Likewise, with ‘Midnight Special’ takes us on a road movie, a study of faith, a family drama and a chase movie embedded with the DNA of a ‘80s sci-fi yarn that would make Steven Spielberg proud.
Nichols deliberately keeps the story murky, and if you’ve watched his previous offerings like ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Mud’, this movie is just as cryptic.
Frequent Jeff Nichols-collaborator Michael Shannon plays Roy, a father who, with his friend Lucas (played by Joel Edgerton), takes his eight-year-old son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) on the run.
Alton has very special powers and everybody knows it. For reasons unknown to us, the boy has to wear goggles and other protective gear for his own protection — and to protect those around him.
Everyone is after them — the FBI, an NSA analyst (Adam Driver), the police and the members of a religious community.
Movies with special-powered folk are all the rage these days, but while most are obsessed with sweeping stories and big universes, ‘Midnight Special’ takes a micro view and focuses on the human rather than the superhuman.
The movie unfolds through Roy’s eyes and he is our surrogate in the story; with him (and us) trying to make sense of what is happening to his child. But it is Roy’s love for Alton and his wavering faith that drives him forward.
The acting is top-notch with an A-list cast that also includes Kirsten Dunst as the boy's birth mother and Sam Shepard as a preacher.
The story slowly trickles on like a slow IV drip but it is exactly this sort of restraint which makes Nichols one of film’s most compelling storytellers and auteurs of his generation.
There are shoot-outs, car chases in night-vision and spurts of digital effects, but they’re all in support of the storytelling.
He takes away enough expositional information from the narrative to still have a story. The film's ambiguity keeps you nicely guessing throughout — though it's a little frustrating.
However, whether the payoff at the end is sufficient is a big question because when Nichols eventually lifts the veil, you’ll understand the reason for all this opacity but frankly you’ll wish that he hadn’t.
‘Midnight Special’ opens 21 Apr 2016